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Jesus Cares about Our Choices
Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. It was also said, Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Opening Prayer: Here I am again, Lord, coming into your presence filled with hope in your goodness and a desire to hear your voice speak to my heart. I know you are thinking of me right now—you never stop thinking of me. I know you have a beautiful dream for me life, and I can only discover and fulfill that dream if I stay close to you. As I pray and reflect on your words today, I do so with that desire: I want to come closer and closer to you, and never be separated from you. Please enlighten and strengthen me, Lord.
- Abusing God’s Gifts: The perennial temptation linked to our sexuality is lust, seeing and treating other people as objects rather than persons, as tools for our own pleasure rather than fellow pilgrims on the way to the Father’s house. This, like anger, is one of the capital sins, because it leads to many other sins. Just as anger can lead to sins like calumny, murder, and even war, lust destroys lives and families through many forms of abuse and exploitation. Our culture seems to have forgotten this. It actively promotes lustful attitudes and actions through the super-sexualized nature of popular entertainment and the ever-growing proliferation of pornography. This promotion of lust, in fact, has contributed to a general loss even of common sense when it comes to some of the most basic realities of our human existence— like our being created male and female, and the lifelong nature of a marriage relationship as the origin of every family. In this passage Jesus is reminding us of God’s noble design for our sexuality: through the faithful gift of each other to each other, spouses image the generous and life-giving love that flows among the three divine persons of the Trinity. Our sexuality is a precious and beautiful part of God’s plan for our lives, and so when lust and infidelity creep in and corrupt it, the corruption is especially destructive.
- Sin Matters: In this context, Jesus also reminds us that sin really matters. Whenever we choose to act in contradiction to God’s plan for our human nature, we cause damage to our souls, which is even more lasting and dangerous than damage to our bodies. This is why Jesus exhorts us to cut away anything in our lives that leads us into sin. His image of cutting out our eye or cutting off our hand if they lead us into sin is not meant to be taken literally. In fact, it can’t be—neither our eyes nor our hands can ever commit a sin, since sin is always a choice against God’s wise plan for us, and choices are made in a person’s spirit. But to choose against God’s plan for us can cause us eternal damage by separating us from his friendship forever. The image of it being preferable to lose a hand or an eye rather than to lose our very self by going to hell is a vivid illustration. Jesus really wants us to know the truth: our choices matter! We can use God’s gifts for the good purposes for which he gave them to us–as in the purpose of our sexuality, which is to bring us together in a spousal relationship of love from which new families are formed–or we can abuse his gifts, and wreak destruction on ourselves and on others. Jesus really wants us to make the right choices, and he will help us do so. We just have to be humble enough to accept the truth of who we are as human beings with a specific human nature created by God, a nature that flourishes when we obey the natural law God has written inside it.
- Occasions of Sin: Catholic spirituality has always encouraged us to avoid the so-called “occasions of sin.” These are situations in which we know we will be severely tempted to sin. We all have situations like that, because we all have a fallen human nature. Certain tendencies within us seem to be attracted to sin, even when we know that acting against God’s wise plan for us (that’s the essence of sin) is bad for us and for those around us. Knowing that we have these tendencies of our fallen nature (called “concupiscence” by theologians) can help us avoid situations in which those tendencies may be encouraged— occasions of sin. This is partly what Jesus was getting at when warning us to cut out the causes of sin from our lives. What are my occasions of sin? Certain relationships or social situations? Certain habits of laziness or indulgence? Sin wreaks destruction, because it abuses God’s gifts, using them for purposes God never intended. Being convinced of that can give us the courage we need to avoid situations that blind us and make sin seem attractive.
Conversing with Christ: Lord, you spoke so clearly and directly about sin. You spoke so clearly and directly about sexual sin. The world around me doesn’t do that. The world around me doesn’t even use the term sin anymore. The world around me is filled with confusion and contradiction regarding all things sexual. I want to welcome this gift you have given me and live it with integrity and beauty. I want to live it in the way you meant it to be lived. Please help me. Please enlighten me. Please give me the courage I need to always make choices in harmony with your wise plan for my life and for the lives of those around me. I believe in you, Lord; help my unbelief! (cf. Mark 9:24).
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make a list of the most frequent occasions of sin in my life. I will talk with you about them and make a realistic plan to avoid them. Then I will talk about that plan with a close friend or mentor in order to have someone who can help hold me accountable to that plan.
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.